Mark 8:27-35 “Who Do You Say That I Am?”
Today’s readings are packed with dynamite! Some Scripture scholars suggest that today’s Gospel from Mark contains the core of the whole Bible. It contains the searching questions of: 1) What think you of Jesus Christ?, 2) What think you of your brothers and sisters?, and 3) What think you of suffering, of pain?
Together with Isaiah in the First Reading, and James in the Second, today’s Gospel of Mark confronts us with a powerful challenge. First, what think you of Jesus Christ?
It is a question posed by Jesus to his disciples toward the end of his public ministry as they were moving toward Caesarea Philippi, on their way to Jerusalem. In the first place, “What do people you meet on the street say I am?”
The apostles report a fair confusion. Some say that he was John the Baptist come back to life; others see him as Elijah, who was brought to heaven on a fiery chariot, he has returned to the world after nine centuries; and there are still others who think that Jesus is one of the prophets come back to life.
All these are information and hearsay, but now comes the direct question: “And you, who do you say that I am?”
Peter answers for all the Apostles. “You are the Messiah, you are the Christ, the anointed king of Israel of the House of David – expected to come and deliver Israel from its enemies and to establish a world empire, marked with justice and peace.”
The answer was a giant step forward, but that understanding still had to be clarified. The question has been central, has been crucial, to all Christians since the time of Jesus.” It’s the same question that each one of us will have to answer to Jesus, “Who is Jesus to you?”
Is he a historical figure of over 2000 years ago? Is he a teacher, like Confucius, a rabbi? Is he just a great person like Gandhi, Buddha, Jose Rizal, Ninoy Aquino?
Is he a friend, a brother? Is he God? Is he your No. 1 in life? Or do you think of Jesus at all? On our answer depends in large measure the way we order our lives, the way we live.
Indeed, Roman Catholic faith and theology echo the cry of apostle Thomas faced with the risen Christ: “My Lord and my God!”
But the response Christ awaits is not a mere intellectual act. It involves Creed, Cult, and Code. Creed, Cult, and Code – what we believe, how we worship, the way we live – these three facets of Catholicism have to be acts of love.
The Creed that we repeat every Sunday is important to guide us in what we believe. But, it is not enough for my Christianity to come alive.
I reach Christ only if my whole person reaches out to him. Faith saves only if it is an act of love. Only if my “I believe” springs from “I love.”
Cult – the way we worship – is not mainly a Sunday obligation under pain of serious sin. The Eucharist is the incomparable supreme act of Catholic worship, and should be my love-filled response to the love that moved Christ to utter at the Last Supper, “This is my body, which is given for you.”
The response is far from adequate if I ask, “Do I have to?” “Is this an obligation?”
Code – the way we live – is not legalism, sheer conformity to a set of rules of do’s and don’ts invented arbitrarily by Church authorities. Law and morality are human efforts to define, specify, and concretize what the two great commandments demand: Love God, love your brothers and sisters. Like all human laws, Church laws can become outmoded, needing revision.
Who, then, do I say Christ is? He is the center of my world. Apart from him liturgy is just play-acting. Communion is merely a ceremony.
My whole life should echo the response of Peter to Jesus at the Lakeshore breakfast, when Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” Hurt that Jesus should ask him the question three times, Peter responded with all his heart, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
That brings us to the Second question – “What do you think of your sisters and brothers?” Here the powerful passage from James is inseparable from genuine love for Christ. “What good is it if [you] say [you] have faith but have not works? Can [your] faith save [you]?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to him or her, “Goodbye and good luck, keep warm and well-fed,” but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that?
So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice, it is thoroughly lifeless.”
Challenging words. These challenges are further spelled out by God through the mouth of the prophets. The prophet Micah proclaimed: “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice and love steadfastly…” And on the lips of Isaiah: “Bring no more vain offerings… Seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
God’s trumpet call in Amos: “I hate, I despise your feasts… Let justice roll down like waters.”
And Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… to set free the oppressed.” Have these words have any impact on our lives? Or, is our reaction like that of “What do I care.”
Social justice is not a secular offshoot of Christianity. The justice that God asks of us is not merely ethical affair. It does not mean just: Give to each one what is due to each, what each one has a strict right to demand, because he or she is a human being has rights which can be proven by philosophy or have been written into law.
As with Israel, so with us: Justice is a whole web of relationships that stem from our covenant with God. We are to “set free the oppressed” not because they deserve it but because this is the way God has acted with us. Because we have experienced God’s love, “This is my body given for you,” “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, shed for you.”
We have to live the second great commandment of the law and the Gospel, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Not only that; we are commanded by Jesus to love one another as he has loved us – even unto crucifixion. So that the words with which Jesus will welcome us at the end of our life will be: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my sisters and brothers, you did it to me.”
And who are these least of our sisters and brothers today? Just to name a few, they are the children born into the garbage dump, the families that sleep on the sidewalks at night, the refugees and the victims of war in Mindanao, the victims of extra-judicial killings, and the families they left behind, the women and even minors who are raped and murdered, the elderly who are lonely and uncared for, the unborn who cannot defend themselves, the millions who cannot find work to support their families. What think you of these your brothers and sisters?
Do the Word and Eucharist we share transform us to be men and women for others? Does Liturgy move our life, from church to world, from Christ to the crucified? From Christ to the crucified. This brings us to the third point: What think you of suffering?
Immediately after Peter confessed him as Messiah, Jesus “began to teach [the disciples] that [he] must suffer much, be rejected… be killed.”
And when Peter protested, Jesus turned on him, rebuked him in unusually strong language: “Out of my sight, you Satan, You are judging not by God’s standards but by humans!” Peter was turning Jesus away from his God-given mission to suffer for humankind, tempting him to turn away from the divine plan of salvation.
You don’t need to be a father or mother to realize that suffering, and pain, and death are part of the human condition. There is no escape.
But it can easily take a lifetime to see suffering with the eyes of Christ. In itself, suffering is neither good nor bad. The all-important question is, why? Why do good people suffer?
I guess there is no real satisfactory answer. God does not give any satisfactory answer. But this much we know: A God who loved me enough to take up a human body to share my life, to die shamefully and willingly for me on a cross between two thieves – this God does not take pleasure in earthquakes, and war, in floods and volcanic eruptions, in cancer and massacres.
We cannot unravel the mystery: why our near and dear ones, why good people die? Why all the suffering people in our hospitals? What you and I can do is to keep our suffering from becoming sheer waste.
How? By transforming suffering into sacrifice. There is a difference. Sacrifice is suffering with a purpose. Our world has long since learned a painful lesson: Perfect oneness with someone or something beloved – man, woman, or child, music or medicine, knowledge or art – can be achieved only in terms of self-giving, only in terms of love.
In the Christian mystery, the self-giving love was summed up by Jesus in today’s Gospel: “If you want to come after me, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow in my steps.”
A big if: if you want to come after him, if you want to be his disciple, if you love him enough to suffer for him as willingly as he was crucified for you.
Let’s close with St. Paul’s words to the Romans. They speak of suffering and sorrow in a faithful way. Paul writes: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”
And again, he writes, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer… Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
Finally, he writes, “The sufferings of this present age are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”
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─ from─ from KARL DOENITZ (wikipedia.org) DR. JOHN COLET (hellenicaworld.com)by Jeremy Beadle (Signet)(OMF Literatures Inc.)